JERUSALEM, Dec. 18 (JTA) — Interior Minister Eli Suissa has denied that he was pressured to freeze a controversial plan to build Jewish housing in the heart of an Arab neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem. The plan to build 132 Jewish housing units in the Ras Al-Amud neighborhood has spawned widespread anger from Palestinians, Arab states, and left-wing Israeli groups. The plan was approved by the Jerusalem Building and Planning Committee only days before the Cabinet voted last week to provide subsidies and tax incentives to settlements, a move that elicited further criticism of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Opponents of the Ras Al-Amud project said the Palestinian reaction to the plan would make the Palestinian riots that erupted in late September “seem like child’s play” by comparison. The project prompted a group of Arab diplomats at the United Nations to request Wednesday that an urgent meeting of the Security Council be convened to discuss the matter. Security Council President Francesco Fulci of Italy met Tuesday with David Peleg, Israel’s acting ambassador to the United Nations, to convey the council’s concern about the project. Suissa backed the project when it was first brought before the planning commission, which he headed prior to assuming the helm at the Interior Ministry. Suissa, a member of the fervently Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party, called a news conference Wednesday to clarify his position on the plan. “Who says it is frozen? I see know reason for it to be frozen,” he told reporters. “Even it is frozen, that would be temporary, just before all the funding is sorted out.” Suissa added that after it was approved by the Jerusalem planning committee, the project was sent back to the developers for some changes. The developers are expected to resubmit the plan to the Interior Ministry in about three months, he said. “Then I believe we will not sign it till we have consultations with the prime minister,” Suissa said. He added that even if it were approved by Netanyahu, consultations would then be held to determine the appropriate timing for starting work on the project.
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